Monday, January 27, 2014
John Barton was one of the great Shakespeare directors of the 20th century. He joined the seminal Royal Shakespeare Company when it was founded in 1960. As a student director at Cambridge, legend has it that Barton had the entire First Folio memorized by heart. The myth also goes that he would chew on razor blades during rehearsals. At the RSC, he directed many famous prodouctions and mentored generations of actors and directors.
In 1982 the BBC produced a series called "Playing Shakespeare". In it Barton workshops a group of the RSC's hottest actors on how to act Shakespeare. The actors include Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, and a slew of talented actors whose careers didn't take them to Hollywood.
This series is a phenomenal resource for Shakespearean actors. Barton advocates interrogating Shakespeare's text, asking questions of it, and looking for hidden directions. He offers actors the tools they need to get this information from the text. This series shows a truly brilliant Shakespearean explaining how to approach Shakespeare, and truly brilliant actors bring his direction to light.
Barton goes over such subjects as heightened speech versus normal speech, blank verse, set speeches and soliloquies, passion in Shakespeare, irony, and poetry.
"Playing Shakespeare" streaming on Netflix
NPR story on "Playing Shakespeare"
Playing Shakespeare book (transcript of the workshops) [partial preview]
Directions by Indirections: John Barton of the Royal Shakespeare Company by Michael Greenwald [partial preview]